Itching to put your toes in the sand? Your beach tote makes an acceptable carry-on, and with travel rewards points you've saved up, you might be able to fly to a seaside spot for free.
Here are eight shoreline destinations to consider, all of which have renowned beaches, great weather and are easily accessible from a major airport.
1. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
This popular town has something for everyone — 60 miles of beaches, pristine golf courses and a boardwalk with one of the biggest Ferris wheels on the East Coast. A mix of families, retirees and spring break goers flock to this destination and stay in a wide range of accommodations, from affordable beach house vacation rentals to luxury oceanside resorts.
Fly directly into Myrtle Beach International Airport from major hubs like Chicago, New York, Baltimore or Philadelphia using your Spirit Airlines Free Spirit miles. The earlier you redeem your miles for your beach flight, the better: Spirit charges different fees based on how far in advance you book. If you book 21 to 180 days before your trip, you’ll pay $15 in fees. Book over 180 days ahead and you can avoid this fee altogether.
2. Cancun, Mexico
British Airways named Cancun one of the top travel destinations for 2019, and for good reason. Cancun offers famous white sand beaches and vibrant nightlife. Check out the nearby Mayan ruins or ecological wonders like the Rio Secreto underground river and crystal caves.
Use your Southwest Rapid Rewards miles to fly to Cancun nonstop from 14 cities in the U.S. Earn enough Southwest Rapid Rewards in time for summer vacation by signing up for one of the airline’s branded credit cards, all of which have the same welcome offer: Earn Companion Pass® through 2/28/2022 plus 30,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.
3. Los Angeles area
The LA region is known for its palm-tree lined streets and beaches. You’ll find skateboarders, bodybuilders and artists at the quirky Venice Beach, world-class shopping and dining at Santa Monica Beach and great waves for surfing in Malibu and Manhattan Beach.
Fly into Los Angeles International Airport using your United MileagePlus miles. The United℠ Explorer Card comes with this welcome offer: 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months. You also get 2 points per $1 spent at restaurants and hotel stays, so any upcoming trips can help boost your earnings toward a future award flight to the beach.
Any list of best beach destinations in the U.S. is incomplete without mentioning Hawaii. Get a glimpse of the state's unique ecosystem by snorkeling in the reefs off the island of Maui, visiting a black sand beach on the Big Island or whale-watching or dolphin-spotting on Oahu. Don’t miss out on trying to ride the waves on the iconic longboards as well. Travelers can now book flights to Hawaii on Southwest, but if you’re looking for the best travel rewards deal, check out Alaska Airlines. The midsize carrier has award flights from the mainland to Hawaii for as little as 15,000 miles.
» Learn more: 10 ways to save on an Oahu vacation
Miami’s famous South Beach is a place to see and be seen. The calm ocean waters and art deco architecture exist alongside the city’s lively nightlife and luxury hotels. After a day in the sun and sand, indulge in some of Miami’s excellent Latin food and dance your heart out in one of the many clubs. Then rest up and head back to the beach the next day.
Most major airlines fly into Miami International Airport, and your Delta SkyMiles can get you there. Get a big chunk of SkyMiles with a Delta-branded credit card when you meet the spending requirement to get the welcome offer. You can also earn extra miles every time you ride Lyft or book an Airbnb when you connect your accounts. Terms apply.
6. Siesta Key, Florida
For a more low-key beach vibe in Florida, check out this gem on the Gulf Coast. Siesta Key has super fine white sand that’s pleasant for beach strolls, lounging or playing sports. The gently sloping sandbar also makes it easy for kids to enjoy the waves. Just off the shore, there’s excellent fishing and snorkeling. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Sarasota Bradenton International and drive a quick 30 minutes to the beach. JetBlue TrueBlue members can use their points for an award flight to Sarasota. You can augment your TrueBlue points balance by pooling with family and friends or transferring points from a credit card you already own. Chase Ultimate Rewards®, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards all let members redeem points for JetBlue flights.
7. San Diego
Whether you’re looking for kayaking, surfing or just lounging, there’s probably a beach for that in San Diego. Mission Beach is popular for its amusement rides and boardwalk. Torrey Pines State Beach has an incredible nature walk along the sea cliffs. Fly into San Diego International Airport using your American AAdvantage miles you rack up with an American Airlines-branded credit card.
8. Portland, Maine
New England might not be top of mind for a beach vacation, but Maine offers plenty of great places to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean. Scarborough Beach is often full of swimmers during the summer months as water temperatures reach the high 60s throughout July and August. Old Orchard Beach also has family-friendly attractions like a boardwalk amusement park, water park and an indoor go-karting track.
Fly into Portland International Jetport with your miles on Frontier Airlines. Frontier is a great airline for a family vacation because of its Kids Fly Free program, which allows children ages 14 and under to fly free on select dates with the purchase of a Discount Den adult fare.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: 3 beach resorts where you can optimize your travel rewards NerdWallet’s top travel credit cards Top family-friendly beach vacations